tv Charlie Rose Bloomberg August 13, 2015 6:00pm-7:01pm EDT
charlie: leslie odom, junior is here. he is an american actor and singer and he is currently part of the most talked about show on broadway -- hamilton. he stars as vice president ehrenberg. he famously -- aaron burr. ben brantley writes in the new york times that the broadway production makes us feel the unstoppable urgent rhythm of a nation being born. i am pleased to have leslie odom, junior at this table for the first time. welcome. leslie: i am so happy to be at this table. charlie: what brought you to hamilton? leslie: i was invited into
hamilton. sometimes you find that the best jobs that you get in this career and business, you did not audition for. i just asked tommy last week, because i have a superstition, sometimes if i get a straight offer, i do not want to ask how it came about. the director, tommy. realizeid they might that why did we ask this guy? i got invited about two years ago to do a reading for this show. and then i saw it at vassar. i saw them do about half an hour of it. i was blown away. when i was invited to do the reading, i prepared like i have never prepared before. i knew all of my music. i knew what they were working on. charlie: you knew it had powerful potential. leslie: i knew how it affected me.
lin is only a year older than i am, so this is our music. i recognized the rhythms and the syncopation and the pulse of the piece. i recognized that. it has been in my ears since i was born. charlie: people wondered when hip-hop would come to broadway because rock had come to broadway. lin was so influential with that. the height was such a watershed moment. i remember listening to it before i saw it. about it --mething i have chills about it thinking about it, there was something about, from the first moments of -- of that album, the need to communicate has always moved me.
i remember i saw a show when i was a teenager called death poetry jam. the way those people came out and they needed you to get it. they put something that there is blood in the pen. there was an urgency and a fire in their bellies for you to get it. it came full circle when i was listening to a rehearsal of us in hamilton, learning my part, and i said that we sell my cap. i can hear that need. -- almost read everything you have done had prepared you to play ehrenberg -- aaron burr. rent. rent a lothink about on stage. because if you live long the -- if you live long enough, your heroes can become your friends. daphne rubin vega was at opening
night. i think about them a lot because they were at the center of a tornado that is similar to ours and they still managed to they present. -- they still managed to stay present. it is not just the work, it is also life. it is also the disappointments that i have had, the fighting through depression, the point when you are not working in the business and you cannot figure out why. all of the things that you go through that fashion you into to person you need to be stand in the center of a tornado like this and still do your job, and still stay sane, and still stay available to your friends and your family. it feels like the moment could not have happened at another moment. for me.ent --
charlie: when you think in a room when it happens, it is a magical moment. it has been enlarged. because it is so powerful. because you want to be in a room where it happens. leslie: i have done enough shows that at thate point in the show, the way that number happens for me, it has -- the performance is only part of that audience response. he had tothat is -- light that within an inch of his toe, tommy and andy had direct the people around me. that is really their love for you. owell's affection
for me when a light comes on at a certain moment so the audience can see whatever i am feeling at that moment. -- trusting me with his life work. he trusted me with some of the greatest music that may have ever been written for the theater. can feel all of the love and support surrounding me to give me a moment like that. [video clip] ♪ >> i want to be in the room where it happens. ♪ >> i want to be in the room where it happens. ♪ room --got to be in the that big old room.
hold your nose and close your eyes. all of the need and desire and energy and justice to thedo text that you were given. how much of it was important to know aaron burr? only play a character, you play the narrator. you are there at every moment. role, butas larger ehrenberg is the continuity -- aron burr is the continuity. leslie: some of the favorite gifts that i have received our books. people come by with articles and books. those have helped me a lot because i would not call myself
a historian by any means. lin at this point is. he has read enough about all of this and the events surrounding it, that he has come up with his own opinion on the events. that is what makes a historian. i have read enough on burr now to come up with my own theories. charlie: there are different opinions of him. some good and some bad. leslie: at the end of the day, the text in the show is my bible. i have to play what he wrote. lin has -- pour intoou have to what he has written, what you know and what you have experienced and what you feel. leslie: and what i believe. is as as what my job performer. that is another one of those things that has intersected. i am ready -- there is a certain
amount of vulnerability that iis show requires of me that was not ready to embrace at any other moment in my life. there is a certain amount of honesty that if i am doing my job right, i bring to the stage every night. that comes with time. charlie: tell me who aaron burr was. soldier, awas a father, a husband, a lover, a , a politicianerer . he was all of those things. us, when people say -- who is the person you want to have dinner with, living or dead. besides charlie rose, i would ,ay ehrenberg -- aaron burr
having him at this table. -- our show is looking back. what have you learned? he had an interesting life after killing hamilton. leslie: it ruined his life. charlie: it ruined his political life. he had been vice president. and then he fled. he was indicted for treason. leslie: he only had one child, theodosia who he loved very much. she died after the death of his only grand child. his grandson died. he invited the igo jet to come with him. she was in mourning. she died on the ship. he died completely alone. he did have friends.
charlie: did you know lin before? leslie: i did casually. it took as sharing a dressing room at the public was good hamilton had us share a dressing room. it took me a while to talk to the guy. that intellect is so intimidating. a is nothing he does, he is nice guy, the nicest you would want to meet. in the shows trying opposite me and he wrote the show. he wrote the book, the lyrics. how do you explain what we have here? this play, this musical. people are talking
about this as changing the american musical theater. a significant evolution in the american musical theater. this has -- this is seen as more than a successful musical. it is being given the heavyweight of cultural moment. you know that is true. a u.s. to do is read the reviews. they talk about it. -- all you have to do is read the reviews. i am a spiritual guide to. is emotional, physical, and there is a spiritual component to it for me. -- i have seen it from the inside, charlie. there is a great deal of it that those guys, andy, tommy, and within they have planned
an inch of its life. they have planned meticulously. we were happy we open because they were forced to put down their pencils. there is the part that they had nothing to do with. there is something else -- charlie: what is that? leslie: it is the space between you and i. stagen me saying it on and how it affects you and what it does to you. that is the part that none of us have any control over. none. you could not pay jimmy fallon to go see our show and talk about our show the way he did the next night. you cannot pay for that. that is something that we have no control over. -- everyone ie know who have -- who has seen words togles to find
give expression to how they felt about it. how they felt about the presence in this play. this is an event. i think it is pride that the actors assembled, and their own diverse backgrounds, and men and women of color, and young. it gives some sense of what many people hope america will always be. it is some of the same as people had in 2008 about barack obama. it says something good about the country. that a young black man, with great intellect, could be elected president. it made people feel good about the country. it made them feel good with regard to their friends all around the world. that is why i think the
elections of 2008 was -- were so important. that is how the plate makes us feel at again. it comes out of the word of alexander hamilton. we were young and hungry and scrappy like this nation we want to shape. i think a lot of it -- number one, regarding 2008, that was really the first time that politics seemed to take an interest and engage my generation. they really got us i fellllike we were necessar, and we were vital to help make that change happen. i think if we have anything in common with that, i hope it is that. i hope the audience comes and feels like their presence is vital.
we feel that on stage. we feel like every single one of us is therefore a reason, for a unique, special-purpose -- purpose. charlie: you cannot forget slavery and all kinds of -- and we still see it happening. awful acts. of conflict. we still see it. but at the same time, there is ,bout this play, and references it is on stage there. ,ven though hip-hop had arri it was your music. and you feel that. ads to the expression of this play. color andyouth and the diversity of the actors who bring a unique kind of passion to a great, historical event.
i kind of think of my major as empathy. that is what i majored in at carnegie mellon. in its purest form, what we are doing. we are stepping inside these people's issues and we are learning about ourselves by talking about them. is, i think, one of the most powerful elixirs for healing in the land. i honestly think that. a way inld find ferguson, and these places, because the pain is real. it is deep. it is his store. oric.-- hist this pain goes back on both sides. , community to policy
watch, in addition to cell phones, because we have to be able to see the truth of what is happening, what will really bring healing is empathy. we have to be able to sit down and talk to each other and find out where you are coming from, and where i am coming from. that is what lin has done with aaron burr. what made him tick. it was a love for his wife and baby girl. a love for his the at osha -- theodosia. that way you can take a villain and turn him into a human being. charlie: in the same way that lyndon johnson was portrayed. passing the voting rights bill. here, we are seeing -- and it is and thet the hardness
give-and-take of transactional politics. we see the same thing with the founding fathers. it is transactional politics. moving in some ways to a greater good. leslie: it is kind of the only way to get things done. if you're sitting down at a table and you're not thinking about the needs of this man across from you, and you're only thinking about yourself, i am not sure how successful you will be. charlie: what was it that intrigues you, beyond the text, about ehrenberg -- aaron burr? did lin give you that in the text? that you honk part of your performance on that. leslie: that was my way in and i think a lot of that did come from our text. rr -- like aaron bu
lot of people, i knew that he was vice president and he killed hamilton. knowing teaches you about his daughter or what happened after that. teaches you about his daughter or what happened to him afterwards. show, got involved in the part of it was not written yet. charlie: was it fun to wrap your voice around that? leslie: oh yes. it is every night. dense, i ams so contracted for a year, it will give me plenty to play with. charlie: are there moments in each play that you look forward to each night? forward to it. you look forward to, getting up and ready, like an athlete, that you know that a big plate is
play isp -- that a big coming up. when are those moments? that is not fun until it is over because if i think about it, i have to start all over. i have to ladle out that soup every night. he does not know that a musical number is coming. at the weight of that song works best, i have no idea that the change will happen. great it wasn't working that great in previews. i was trying to figure it out. what did i need to do. lin gave me a note that unlocked it because he talked about the physical change that needs to happen once he makes the decision to run, once he makes the decision to go after something for the first time. i had been bouncing around the
whole number. and he said -- don't. i feel like maybe if you simplify that physical movement, when we see that change from it will have a greater impact. it did. the answer your question, at the top of the show, i have a place, i won't say where, where i watch the audience before we start. i watch them for about two minutes and i get to know, are my other scene partner, so i need to know them. you are to them during the performance? leslie: all of the time. it is that need to communicate. i feed on that response. i need them with me. so i watch them. that is one of my favorite parts. wheree have the on ramps, sometimes you have the audience sitting back at the top of the show.
you can feel it. when they are not quite with you , not quite feeling it, so i look forward to moment like when rene sings satisfied. where forward to moments right-hand man, or the finale of act i. where, if theyts are sitting back, you can feel them start to lean forward. you can -- charlie: you can see that. even if you're doing something when you're, even having a conversation with the audience. you can feel them becoming more engaged. it is almost your own rhythm of talking, seems to be in touch with their rhythm of breathing. you hit even before what might be a funny line, and unscripted, their lack -- they laugh almost before.
leslie: sometimes come the applause will start even before we finish a moment. charlie: they can't resist. it is so fun. do you think this will change you? has.e: it already i can only imagine year after this show. i hope that i get to leave and do other things and maybe come back. when i have a kid. i don't have any children. , as people important to me -- our show deals with life and death so much in a healing and on his way. .- and honest way to have this arc to work through this stuff is a real gift that
lin is not only giving to the world but to us from inside it. it moves me just as much as it moves you. charlie: i think what is great people that did not know hip-hop. may havea line -- lin said this, that the life of hamilton embodied hip-hop. it was excessively verbal. immigrant. hamilton was all of that. hip-hop. is all that. leslie: he found that connective tissue. he found the thing -- any show that connects with charlie rose and barack obama, and joe biden and jimmy fallon in the same way that it connects with common and black thought -- you are onto something.
he found that connective tissue. he found the places that we are alike. mined and found all of the places that you are like me. the things that you care about are the things that i care about. charlie: those connections bind us also. that is what people are responding to. i have not found a demographic that does not like this show. it is 80-year-old people it is eight-year-old people, it is men and women. charlie: thank you. leslie: thank you. charlie: back in a moment. ♪
charlie: the city of yonkers received national attention in the legal battle for housing desegregation three decades ago. the landmark suit, the united states versus the city of yonkers took 27 years to resolve. the wasicsko was 28-year-old mayor at the center of the escalating fight that pitted the judiciary, city leaders, and yonkers residents against each other. the mayor is played by oscar isaac in a new hbo miniseries -- show me a hero. david simon created it. here is the trailer for show me a hero. [video clip] don't tell me -- don't tell
anyone but i always wanted to be the man. he used to talk about it all of the time. kids used to call me the mayor. more than a compliment. the city intentionally segregated housing for 40 years. >> the whole government is white. he wants to take low income housing and put it in east yonkers. i live here. i am nothing like what they describe. >> what are you going to do? is that guy from yonkers again asking if he can get any help from the state of new york. ♪ >> what is the matter with these people? somewhereted to live but everything has a cost. recognizedme you
your failure as a leader. >> you want to live where people are angry with you? >> you know, it is all property values, underneath it all it is fear. >> quite a year for you mr. mayor. >> justice is not about popularity. no, it is not. but politics is. ♪ charlie: he has done it again. i am pleased to have both david simon and oscar isaac back at this table. who is the mayor? itid: it was nick wasicsko was eight to multiple of six years. tumultuous six years. in his career. it is what drives the piece. if we do not get him right, if we do not get his are correct,
then we have an amorphous explanation of public housing politics -- public housing policy over six hours. this piece does not work without it being nick wasicsko's story. we had to get the right actor. charlie: did you? dense.it is quite i was not used to reading -- not long form, but longer form than what i have been used to which is feature films. even how to read it, i was a little bit -- i was new to it. we met with david and paul and paul said to me, really smart thing for a director to say, he said -- i want you to do this oscar because i have no idea how you will do this. that appeals to my sense of challenge. i saw a video of the actual nick wasicsko.
it was not until i saw that that i said -- i want to do that. he broke my heart. just to see the way he would move and talk. soundede -- it always like he was appealing to someone that was not listening. his voice was always about to crack. it felt like someone that was a bit lost, trying so hard. charlie: tell me the story so we have a sense of what this is about. david: it is a quotidian politician. a bank -- a backbench politician, very young, who is put up to run for mayor. he is a sacrificial lamb. he is supposed to lose. to an incumbent who is pretty entrenched. wins and he wins on the basis of his opposition to giving up an appeal of this federal
decision that was going to integrate yonkers. in the loss, -- or in the victory, is the seeds of a lot of trauma because he is not even inaugurated yet when the lawyers call and say -- there is no track with the appeal. we will not win in court. you will have to build this low income housing in the white areas of yonkers. he then has to carry this back to the voters of yonkers. he has to tell the truth. he has to lead. almost zerog from to 60 before he is even inaugurated in terms of the town becoming angry. not wantingpting -- to accept what he has to tell them. the youngest mayor in america at the time in a big city to almost pariah prop -- political
in his own town. the loneliest that i felt watching him do the scenes, particularly at the height of it, i remember -- there was that one vote where he stood alone. 1-6. everyone on the council was against him. -- thatkipped over that you said we should put it back in. i am glad we did because it was an incredible moment. charlie: take a look at this video. here it is. [video clip] >> you a letter to appeal the affordable portions of the housing. >> no. minority leader orlando.
>> no. >> councilmember. >> no. >> councilmember hoffman. >> abstain. oscar: they knew what was happening. they knew it was unsustainable. at the city would be zoned into bankruptcy. he cared. the limits of populism in a fundamental way. it is not what the majority once, it is what is legal under the constitution. this is about hyper segregation and the use of federal money for an all-white world. decisiony, it was a that was not only from one judge, it was upheld by an
appeals family that had two reagan appointees on it. there was no room to maneuver. him there were politicians trying to maneuver and use the rhetoric. charlie: what convinced you that this was a story, of all of the possible stories, that this was the one for you to tell? book, when i read the someone that i had worked with, gave me the book. rhetoric, this is the intransigence, the lack of a political center. the notion that we share a society. think that is what is empty at the core of the americans experience right now. rich, i am notnd arguing for a classless society. we are who we are. but if everyone feels like we do
not share some sense of the same america and we are responsible for the collective whole, this coarse andourse -- brutish place. charlie: how do we get there? council is ankers approximation of our congress. right now, the only two things we are running on its currency and fear. stupid, public policy, -- money. property values. that mightfied other move into my neighborhood. or sharing any sense of the national wealth with anyone who does not have enough, right down to the minimum wage or health care. i look at this and i say -- this is where we are reaching a point
of where we are content with the idea of two separate americans. -- americas. oscar: also, showing the other side. we are watching a lot of white people talking about where the others are going to live. this shows you these others. and how other it is. the story follows incredibly brave women who are prospective tenants who are trying to get out of public housing. you see the impact. it is unnerving to see people talking about these people in the abstract. and you go to their personal stories and you see what it actually cost. david: there is a great pivot between episode four and five because at the beginning, the government of yonkers, all white, is arguing this in the abstract. the people you're seeing you not have any agency in the story
until they do and the houses get built. and then there is a pivot in the last two episodes where they start to exert on their own behalf. that is a valuable twist in the story. charlie: was this an easy decision for you? oscar: yes. you fall in love with something and sometimes you cannot explain why. i couldn't stop thinking about why he did what he did. the six your. in this guys life, and it is so epic in nature. it goes from his dreams all coming true in an instant, it someone whothis is has zero separation between political and personal. he is fused completely. to see when that starts to fall apart, how he responds to that and how he tries to make his way back in and he can't. it is shakespearean in its grantor. -- grandeur.
charlie: show me a hero and i will show used -- i will show you tragedy. a pristines not hero. he comes in without regard to the racial dynamic. interested in ordinary people and how they land in politics. i am not interested in the grandiose hero. in counterpoint to the nick wasicsko story. who started asn a complete adversary to the housing. she had to go on a journey as well. almost a reverse echo. charlie: take a look at this. this is the mayor talking to her. [video clip] >> mayor's office. >> my name is mary. >> this is the mayor. hello.
this is the mayor. -- i didn't expect for you to answer. youlled -- i wanted to tell that i think it is wrong of you to support the housing. yeah, well, the law is the law and the judge ordered it from and the board upheld it, and the law is the law. >> why can't you say that you think it is wrong. >> that is not what a leader is supposed to do. a leader is supposed to lead and that is what i am trying to do. what makes it -- nick? david: often you are pushed into things. that is the ardor of the law. there is a way to communicate
that, oscar: in some ways, a leader in his mind, cannot present their opinion about something. how do i get everyone to go to the place that we need to go? i think he was a bit naive as well because he did not expect, even with doing the right thing and getting the housing built, that he would be chewed up and spit out. charlie: what is interesting to me is that i find that many people who do something that takes current and is a bit do it simply because it seems like the right thing to do. at the moment. not because they want to be harrowing. -- heroic. whether it is to risk your buddy out of harms way. there is the moment when the lawyers call came in, he could've gone either way.
he could embrace the false populism of the crowd -- it seemed to gratify the crowd to say that you're going to fight to the death. but if the death of the city is right around the corner, there is not much of a fight. there were political leaders who were going to do that and benefit. oscar: he had been mayor for two years. live to fight another day. david: he ultimately did the right thing at the moment that yonkers needed someone to do the right thing. finally, he got his votes, he managed to wrangle the votes and pushed the housing plan through at great personal cost. it is fair to say that he probably believed, and oscar may have a better sense of this, theree probably believed would be acorn energy would turn and eventually it would come around and he would be seen -- he would get the benefit of being the grown-up.
and i would be recognized like that. charlie: he dreamed of being a u.s. senator. oscar: i think every politician does. charlie: every u.s. senator gets up in the morning and sees a future president. david: never ending. what happened to him? i don't want to ruin the story. david: i think we want to be a his political -- shoals andinto the never came out. oscar: he paid the ultimate cost. went from being the youngest mayor in america to being a washed up nobody. david: those houses are still there in yonkers. they are still viable. they did not turn into ghettos.
they were integrated into the community and they are still used for public housing. charlie: did the desegregation of them have a larger impact? david: they did in a national sense. it became a wiser way. david: public housing grew up and began the process in yonkers. charlie: the architects understood urbanization. david: oscar was one of the consultants on it and his theories of defensible space have become dominant. there has been a revolution in public housing where it has become much more functional. it provides a lifeboat for the families of the least. --ar: makes wife was vital nick's wife was vital. she was an open book. i spoke with her. for a few hours. we criedfew hours,
together, we talked so much about everything. she showed me photographs. she let me in on what was happening in this. it was wild. your review people have to deal with this. and she was very young. as an actor, what i try to do was create a sacred space for me. make it more than just about yourself. that is definitely a way of doing it. you are honoring the person that this is based on. it is not him, it is him filtered through the author of the book, and filtered through david, and then filtered through me. it is a version. it is using him as an inspiration. and honoring him without whitewashing it. he was sitting here at this table. david: i am working with him on a project. you, it did the two of
would be a great conversation to talk about baltimore with the two of you. my impression is that you are a little bit more optimistic than he is. david: i think he has earned his pessimism. charlie: well said. david: he grew up in a different baltimore. when i walked down the street in baltimore, i do not have eyes on the back of my neck the way that he does. from the police department. he has earned his pessimism. haul, thisng argument that we are having right now about race in america, that was ratcheted up in ferguson and baltimore and houston -- is the right argument to be having. it is a good argument. i am hoping that some progress comes out of it. but the argument keeps going. and engenders some change.
and i am exhilarated by the possibilities. people are already talking about mass incarceration and over policing. charlie: including the president. david: these things were not on the agenda five years ago. they're in is my optimism. i read the book and he is entitled to stand where he stands. charlie:? did you read the article? ? david: that dovetails into -- show me a hero. there was a successful lawsuit in yonkers. the template for other cities was that this was a plan. you guys segregated your society with fha redlining, with where you spent your federal housing poor, consolidating your into small pieces of your urban areas. this is the america that you wanted and we are not allowed to have, because of brown versus education, separate but equal
was never on the table after brown and get you guys pursue this as municipal policy and federal policy. michaelthe case that sussman proved in yonkers. it had to be scattered throughout the entire city. that logic of what codes has presented, within the dna of the story. charlie: we continue this. here is michael sussman -- roll tape. [video clip] >> this is a victory for the naacp. money to segregate. >> 10 years ago, i would have agreed. thisthen, it would've seen case as an answer to the problem, we have been at this game for a long time. longer than you. a lot of us are at the point
where we do not have to live with us, and why should we want to live with them. maybe i have grown old in this fight. a be the fight has grown old to me. watching how this has played out over the last seven years, i am -- how much we are going through for a few hundred scattered units of housing. the director of the naacp is arguing against segregation. >> i am not arguing against anything. i am just tired. charlie: do you think you can change america through film? i don't know. it is not in my job description. storytelling. get the story right. do what you can with the story. try not to cheat the story. whatever happens after that is in the purview of other people.
it is great to be a part of the argument. we get a lot of chances to -- to entertain people. there is nothing wrong with the entertaining, that is a big part of our industry. every now and again, you get to be a part of the argument. charlie: thank you david. and you oscar. thank you for joining us. see you next time. ♪